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The Game of Love: Troubadour Wordplay (review)
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REVIEWS Laura Kendrick, The Game of Love: Troubadour Wordplay (Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1 988) xiv + 237 pp. $32.50. This book deals with wordplay as a process of recombintng syllables or parts of words to form new words with additional and sometimes multiple meanings. The author deals initially with word patterns in manuscripts, based on her study of the thirteenth and fourteenth-century Occitan chansonniers. Kendrick hypothesizes on the possible formation of lexical groups in the breu which were the supposed preliminary notes from which the troubadours composed their written texts. She assumes that the songs were written out in full by the poets and in such a way as to provide for different combinations ofwords. This assumption is the basis ofher argument which presents the songs as initially written compositions from which the performance is subsequently drawn. Kendrick's approach to troubadour verse is new and controversial and would need more concrete evidence to make it convincing. It is a bold hypothesis. The book deals at length with interpretation, how the text was read and also how it was performed, with the audience constituting an essential part of the interpretative process. The language of gesture is described as being an important additional element of interpretation, both in the encoding and decoding of the poetic message. Sacred texts were frequently parodied in the erotic verse of the troubadours, most notably by Guillaume IX. and by other facetious troubadours who followed his style. The author makes a distinction between serious interpretations and deliberately foolish or playful ones. At a visual textual level these playful interpretations maybe perceived in the form ofparodie and humorous illustrationsin the manuscripts, such as grotesques and chimeric figures, which suggest further interpretations not immediately apparent in the verbal rendering of the text. Kendrick suggests that these texts are audio-visual, and must be appreciated as such ifwe are fully to grasp the multiple meanings inherent in the puns. The pun. which is seen to be the essence of the lyric, has a political dimension in that it undermines meaning and therefore authority by a constant verbal contest of mockery and subversion. The book is well documented and the arguments are clearly presented, with examples from six major troubadours, including Guillaume IX Marcabru and Bernart de Ventadom. There are thirtyseven illustrative plates showing evidence of visual punning in the 49 REVIEWS songbooks. The author claims that puns and word-games are part of a discourse of male phallic bravado, and of a desire to obtain dominance and status, both socially and politically. She has not dealtwith the lyrics ofthe trobairiiz, and itwouldbe interesting to see where they would fit into this scheme, since punning is also evident in their works. Kendrick's detailed study of troubadour wordplay undoubtedly adds much to our understanding and enjoyment ofthe love lyric and highlights its ludic quality. The basic thesis, that oftextual transmission and its significance is not sufficiently supported byevidence and may not be possible to prove. The author's claim that troubadour compositions were used as teaching aids for the vernacular language may only be true for the later tradition, as exemplified in the Leys d'Amors, but it is hard tojustify this claim for the earlier period, that of Guillaume IX and Marcabru. In all, this is a provocative study which requires further elaboration on more solid foundations. Veronica Fraser University ofWindsor 50 ...